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Redskins Left to Wonder 'What Might Have Been...'

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"For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been!'"

So the esteemed poet John Greenleaf Whittier was a Redskins fan after all. Who knew?

For want of a yard against the Detroit Lions or a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Redskins might well be right in the middle of the NFC East's fun and games. If only a punt had not bounced off Byron Westbrook's unwitting foot to give the Carolina Panthers field position and a chance to score the winning touchdown.

If we even needed the last few weeks to remind us, there are no sure things in the NFL and this division proves it.

The Redskins return from their bye week with a 2-5 record, and how far away seem those heady days when they were 2-2 and just struggling to score. What's happened while they've been sliding and slumbering?

The New York Giants, who opened with five consecutive victories, are suddenly showing those wins were assembled against lesser competition. They've lost their last three games, their defense repeatedly gashed. They've tumbled into third place.

The Philadelphia Eagles have won four of their last five. The Dallas Cowboys have won four of their last five. They're tied for first at 5-2.

Occupying the basement apartment? The Redskins. They lost to the Giants. They lost to the Eagles. Really, no shame there. But the Detroit Lions? The Chiefs? Letting a 15-point lead evaporate in Carolina? Those are the sins of the recent past.

"That's the NFL," says defensive end Andre Carter. "You've got to earn every play in every game."

Head coach Jim Zorn says he doesn't view the first seven weeks as a wasted opportunity but what else could it be? That was the weak part of the schedule, excluding the Giants and Eagles. Detroit hadn't won before playing the Redskins, nor since. The Chiefs continue to sink, their only win here at FedExField.

Only one game remains against a team with a losing record and that's on the road against the Oakland Raiders. Every other matchup involves a potential playoff team. Given that the Redskins haven't won yet on the road, even the Raiders should provide a challenge. Those are painful words to contemplate.

When the Redskins lost to Detroit, they failed to make one yard and score a touchdown on their initial drive. The busted play, a run to the left side, involved their four Pro Bowl players. Clinton Portis carried behind fullback Mike Sellers, with left tackle Chris Samuels and tight end Chris Cooley blocking up front.

Now Samuels is on injured reserve, his spinal condition jeopardizing his career. Cooley is on crutches, hoping he can return in four weeks after surgery on a broken ankle. Better communication, a little more push, and the Redskins would have scored a touchdown. That might have been enough to strip the Lions, at the time winless since 2007, of hope.

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Ah, what might have been.

Two big breaks early against the Panthers put the Redskins in position to score short touchdowns and they did it. They didn't do much else but they led 17-2 before crumbling. If a short punt doesn't hit Westbrook and go back to the Panthers, maybe they hold on. If they get a stop late in the game against a sputtering offense, maybe they hold on.

Ah, what might have been.

If Portis' career-long run of 78 yards against the Chiefs had been 88 and a touchdown, or if the Redskins had figured out how to score after than run from the Chiefs 10-yard line, perhaps they'd have found their missing spark. But Portis carried to the Kansas City 10 and then Redskins moved no further and kicked a field goal.

Ah, what might have been.

"You don't look back," Carter says. "We put ourselves in this situation. There's only so much reflecting you can have without getting more upset with yourself. We have the second half of the season to look forward to."

They can only negotiate the realities on the ground. Their offensive line lacks cohesion and depth, in part due to the injuries to Samuels and guard Randy Thomas. They've lost Cooley, their leading receiver. Three of their next four games are on the road and the home one is against the 6-1 Denver Broncos.

Perhaps Whittier can have Robert Browning watch with him as the Redskins get ready for the final nine games. Whittier, that pessimist, bemoaned what might have been.

The hopeful Browning wrote "the best is yet to be."


Larry Weisman covered professional football for USA TODAY for 25 years and now joins the Redskins Broadcast Network and Redskins.com to bring his unique viewpoint and experience to Redskins fans. Go to Redskins.com for the Redskins Blitz column and NFL Blitz on Friday. Larry also appears on The Jim Zorn Show on WRC-TV on Saturday night, on Redskins Nation, airing twice nightly on Comcast SportsNet, and on ESPN 980 AM radio, all in the Washington, D.C. area. Read his blog at redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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